For over 50 years, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) have helped organizations better understand our world through the use of spatial data and 3D visualizations.
GIS technology has steadily improved with computational advances and is now a crucial analytical tool for many who want to quantify geographic data in new ways. Before, analysts relied on hand-drawn maps and manual calculations. Now, we can layer massive datasets on top of digital basemaps and run complex analyses.
In this article, we dive into the history of GIS and discuss why these systems will be so valuable in the future.
1830s & 1960s: First Instances of Spatial Analyses and GIS
The concept of “spatial analysis” was first introduced in the 1830s.
At the time, french cartographer, Charles Picquet, was asked to create a map that colored the 48 districts of Paris according to how many deaths occurred from cholera. Picquet’s maps inspired others in the field of epidemiology to create similar maps in order to study how diseases were spreading. This eventually led to the formal rise of Geographic Information Systems.
GIS officially arrived on the scene in the 1960s when the computational geography and spatial analytics disciplines gained legitimacy due in large part to research coming out of academic institutions. In 1963, the Canadian government commissioned Roger Tomlinson to create the first computerized GIS for the purpose of creating a digital inventory of the country’s natural resources. Because of his work, Tomlinson came to be known as the “Father of GIS.”
The next year, Howard Fisher developed one of the first software GIS programs, SYMAP, while at Northwestern University. With SYMAP, Fisher established the Harvard Laboratory for Computer Graphics, which became a key site for GIS innovation over the next several decades.
Towards the end of the 1960s, one of the biggest players in the GIS space today, ESRI, was founded. The company has played a major role in showcasing the technology’s effectiveness for conducting spatial analyses with geographic data.
The 1980s & 1990s: Commercial Explosion
ESRI released the first commercial GIS application in 1981. Over the next ten years, other companies developed their own products, focusing on making GIS more powerful and user-friendly.
In the 90s, GIS’s functionality expanded dramatically as the internet made it easier for users to gather and disseminate data. Organizations were able to collaborate on analyses and work together from separate locations. As a result, insights could be shared across entities and multidisciplinary efforts were easier to execute. At the same time, GIS providers continued to develop high-quality basemaps that were accessible over the web.
The Future of GIS
Looking to the future, GIS will continue to support a wide array of efforts. From urban planning to environmental preservation, analysts will use GIS to uncover unique insights that are rooted in geographic data.
GIS will be instrumental for understanding how next-generation technology shapes our world. With the Internet of Things (IoT) space projected to explode, organizations will want to study how our increasingly interconnected world is impacted by geographic variables in real time.
Due to improvements in cloud computing, agencies will be able to share and analyze up-to-date spatial data more easily than ever before. This will be important as we face worldwide issues and challenges that affect many people.
We, at OSPInsight, are especially excited about how GIS will support the telecommunication sector. With 5G networks on the horizon, fiber will become even more important for delivering high-speed broadband to communities across the world. When combined with GIS, fiber developers are able to manage their networks with powerful tools and resources.
To learn more about how OSPInsight’s fiber management platform integrates with cutting-edge GIS applications, contact us today to schedule a free demo.